The deep, deep sleep of England

Here is the closing paragraph from George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, as Orwell describes his return to England in June 1937 following his narrow escape from Spain (from which he and his wife had to flee following the suppression of the independent revolutionary socialists by the Moscow-backed Communists). Bear in mind he was writing this in 1937, two years before the outbreak of the second world war:

And then England – southern England, probably the sleekest landscape in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, especially when you are peacefully recovering from sea-sickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage under you, to believe that anything is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday.

The industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden by the curve of the earth’s surface. Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.

“Mighty writing”, to quote Shakespeare in Love. Reminiscent of Orwell’s famous evocation of England in The Lion and the Unicorn. What particularly struck me – apart from Orwell’s prescience – was the reference to “red buses” and “blue policemen”: this was a time when these were rare splashes of colour in an otherwise largely monochrome city, and Orwell captures this perfectly by contrasting them with the men in (black) bowler hats and the (grey) pigeons.

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2 Responses to The deep, deep sleep of England

  1. steve martin says:

    John,

    Thanks for sharing that bit of timeless wisdom from Orwell.

    I’m afraid that is what prosperous democracies do…’sleep’.

    The forces that will wake us are even now setting the alarm clock.
    Like the others, this will be no gentle nudge.

  2. Pingback: Bookmarks about Evangelical

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